Strategies for Successful Graduate Students

VSU Graduate School -

Years spent in graduate school are undoubtedly a stressful and anxiety provoking period in a person's life. There are academic pressures, family pressures, career pressures and the pressure to balance it all. Below are some tips to help you balance this.

Get support and guidance from senior graduate students in your department.
These students have tread the waters before you so they surely have the inside scoop on departmental matters. They can help you prepare for prelims, teach you how to operate that new high-tech microscope, and let you know some pitfalls to avoid as you complete your program.

Keep the thesis/ dissertation in perspective.
You've written a research paper before right? Think of your dissertation as simply another academic exercise. Sure none of the papers you've written before have been of this magnitude, but you have the basic skills, so just get it done! Many times students fall into the trap of thinking that the dissertation will epitomize their life's work. In reality, your dissertation may be a stepping stone for your life's work, but will it really be the best piece of work you will create? Unlikely. The best dissertation is a completed dissertation, so stop second-guessing yourself and start writing!

Be assertive and seek out opportunities.
Your professors and fellow students will not know what you are interested in unless you tell them! It is perfectly acceptable for you to talk with your professors and fellow students often about your plans for the future and to inquire about how they can help you along this road. Who do they know? Can they introduce you to someone who would be helpful in your work? Can they include you on research that would be a great stepping stone for your career?

Celebrate each accomplishment.
In graduate school you are so focused on the next task that it is easy to forget to celebrate the huge task you just completed. You will be spending several years in this program; do you really want to wait until graduation before you celebrate? First year done, celebrate. Prelims done, celebrate. First publication, celebrate. You get the picture.

Don't put the rest of your life on hold.
Many times graduate students get into the habit of neglecting other areas of their lives because research seems paramount to anything else. Does this sound familiar? We're waiting to have a baby until I finish graduate school, I would love to be involved in that program, but I do not have time? Is there ever really a perfect time to do anything? There were things that were important to you before graduate school started, so continue to make those things important. Sure you may not be able to be as invested in some activities as you were before, but you need balance in your life. It is especially important to continue to nurture your relationships while in graduate school. You will need tons of support to successfully complete your program. Don't get so wrapped up in academics that you neglect your partner, friends, and family.

Get physical.
Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress, anxiety, and depression. Take advantage of the world class facility you have in the Ramsey Center. You can participate in just about any kind of physical activity you can think of at Ramsey. If that's not your cup of tea, take advantage of all the walking trails, biking trails, and beautiful outdoor scenery the Athens area provides. You do not have to make a huge commitment, but you would be surprised at the difference a daily 30 minute walk makes.

Get involved.
You have access to your pick of extracurricular activities.  Additionally, there are opportunities to get involved in study abroad programs, intramural sports programs, political organizations, creative arts organizations and numerous others.

Don't put unrealistic pressure on yourself.
Here's a reality check, you are not perfect! Neither is your cohort member or your professor. There is a lot that you do know, that's why you are in graduate school; but there is also a lot you don't know, which is another reason you're in graduate school. Do not hold yourself to standards that are unreasonable and unrealistic.

Don't think that you are alone.
It is common for graduate students to feel inadequate, incompetent, and alienated. You are not alone in these feelings. There will likely not be another time in your life when you are under such extreme scrutiny and examination so it is normal that you feel judged and that you are always questioning yourself. However, without management these feelings can become problematic and lead to feelings of depression and anxiety which might result in a decline of your performance. Many graduate students also experience the imposter phenomenon. The imposter phenomenon is characterized by feeling like your successes are attributable to some outside influence such as luck. There is also the belief that you have tricked others into believing in your achievements and that at any moment you will be exposed as a fraud. If you believe that any of these feelings have become unmanageable or are affecting your productivity, it may be a good idea for you to come in and talk to a therapist at CAPS who can help you make sense of these feelings.

Utilize your resources.
There are a variety of campus resources available to you whose sole purpose is to ensure your success as a student here at VSU. Use them! Some of these resources include: The Counseling Center, Academic Support Center, The Access Office, Career Opportunities, and The International Student Office.